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‘As the bombs fall, I write’: The poets of Gaza | Arts and Culture



Children eagerly thumbing through books in the kids section, youngsters scanning the covers, undergraduates searching for a quiet spot to work, others drinking their coffee as they read. The smell of incense. The piles of books. The yellow banner bearing the name Samir Mansour – the library and bookstore that was home to Gaza’s most passionate readers.

I was a student of English literature – searching out novels, poetry collections, books from around the world – when I found it, directed there by friends who knew I would find what I was looking for.

The first time I entered, I marvelled at its tens of thousands of books and left with a poetry collection by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and a Russian novel that had been translated into Arabic. It was the largest bookstore in Gaza. Now just a few books remain – among them Ghassan Kanafani’s novel Returning to Haifa – the story of a Palestinian couple who goes back to Haifa after the 1967 war to look for their baby, whom they were forced to leave behind in the war of 1948 (Nakba). How did that book survive all the flames and all the smoke to tickle our blazing yearning for our missing homeland and our missing Haifa?

I woke up to the news on May 18. That morning, at 5:50am – the crack of dawn – the bookstore had been hit by an Israeli missile. My memory filled with the faces of friends I’d been there with, with the titles and covers of the books I’d read or bought from there. Our books were burning, our memories too. Our most vital places were being wiped out.

I wrote my first poem in 2014, as Israeli bombs rained down on Gaza, sitting in the corner of my room during the three hours of electricity we had each day, listening to the radio and to the sound of bombs, drones and ambulances. I typed out the words – “I was born in Gaza.” I wanted to talk about what I was going through in the tune of a poet or a poetry lover. When the poem was finished, I posted it on social media. The next day, I found an enormous number of likes and shares; my message had been delivered.

Growing up in Gaza is inspiring for anyone, but especially for poets – life here is poetry blown into pieces and scattered all over the place. In the weddings, there’s poetry, in times of war, in the eyes of an old man sitting in front of his small shop, mourning the death of his child, in the tears of a lover whose fiancée was murdered along with her entire family while she was sleeping in her house, in the blueness of Gaza’s shores, which carries me to where I want to be and brings me back to who I was, in the flames of bombs falling on the heads of Gazans; heartachingly and heartwarmingly, this place can definitely make you a poet.

In 2018, I created the first spoken word community in Gaza, Gaza Poets Society. It’s a community of young and aspiring poets – almost 30 of us in total – who gather to exchange ideas, share our work and connect with other poets in other parts of the world. We once gathered on the beach to share poetry and songs.

For us poets, watching Israel target Samir Mansour and other cultural and educational centres was difficult. I asked some of them to share their feelings.

Poets gather on the beach in Gaza, sharing poems and singing songs [Photo courtesy of Mohammed Moussa]

Nadine Murtaja, 18: ‘We walk on the shattered glass of our broken windows, we walk on stones that once were a house’

When I reached out to Nadine – who is a member of the Gaza Poets Society – over Facebook to ask her how she was feeling, she answered “still alive”.

For the 18-year-old from the al-Nasr neighbourhood in central Gaza, writing poetry is an escape valve during times of war.

“Two years ago, I found that I am really into poetry,” she explains. “After that realisation, everything I encounter in my life I document on paper; my tears, and shouts form my poems. Just like that, writing poetry becomes an escape for me – a world of my own, far away from the world I live in.”

She writes even when “the flames of war are blazing”.

During the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, she wrote this:

“There, on the other side,

time changes, hours pass, and it gets darker,

the sky takes off its dim dress, then the morning arrives,

but here where I live, and breathe, life wears its black dress constantly,

to mourn the labour of my land,

which took a long time.

Here, the hanging clock, in my room is broken,

not only this one, everyone’s clock is broken here,

my mother keeps saying:

everyone is waiting for the elixir,

we’ve had it with the grief and agony,

in this holy land we sleep and wake up on the sound of bombing and shooting

so the first light of day rises in the evening,

lighting up the sky with the blood of martyrs,

here death sleeps not far from us,

we all walk towards freedom, towards hope,

we walk on the shattered glass of our broken windows,

we walk on stones that once were a house, carrying stories and secrets,

we walk with the screams of children, and the groans of mothers pulsating over and over in our ears.”

Nadine describes herself as “kind of a discreet person, who finds it hard speaking about what she feels or experiences to those around her”. She wonders whether that is why her poems are “vibrant, realistic and poignant”.

Her favourite poet, she says, is Mahmoud Darwish – the Palestinian poet who was born in 1941 and died in 2008 and who generations of Palestinians have grown up reading in school books and on murals painted on the walls of refugee camps, his words forming part of the Palestinian conscience.

“Every time I read his poetry, I find myself immersed in his words,” Nadine explains. “I’ve always wanted to dig deeper when I write my poetry as he did. Also, I like how he mixed reality with his emotions to make his poetry so powerful.”

Nadine believes living in Gaza has contributed to making her the poet she is today but says: “Writing cannot be impacted by circumstances, because no matter what the poet goes through, he or she will always run to their own world – which is writing”.

Her message to the world is: “Even if Palestine isn’t your national or political issue, don’t forget that it is a human issue in the first place”.

A group photo at the Hymns of Peace spoken word event in Gaza in November 2018 [Photo courtesy of Mohammed Moussa]

Maha Jaraba, 22: ‘There is just a small window for light to get through’

“There is no outlet in Gaza but poetry, it is the only medium that takes our souls wherever we want to go,” says 22-year-old Maha Jaraba, who is from the al-Nusairat refugee camp in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. The overcrowded camp is home to more than 80,000 people – those who fled during the Nakba in 1948 and their descendants. Maha studies Business Administration at Al-Quds University and is a member of the Gaza Poets Society.

“We are in the midst of dark, in the midst of bleakness, there is just a small window for light to get through, into our chests, and to release our sense of outrage or to get rid of the stumbling blocks there is only writing poetry,” she says.

Everything that surrounds Maha inspires her to write – poetry is the only way she can feel free in Gaza, she says.

“I don’t think I’d be a poet if I was born in a city other than Gaza, the darkest and bleakest life only exists here. The troubles we face, or the emotions that live inside us, do not exist anywhere else. And those feelings are what made us poets,” she reflects.

She refuses to stay silent about the hardships and brutality Palestinians endure – the continuous attacks on Gaza, living under siege, being stripped of basic rights, children being murdered. She believes the international community is turning a deaf ear to Palestinians but she will not be silenced.

“The only thing that relieves us from the troubles of war is poetry. As bombs fall, I write. While learning of the death of my people, I still write,” she says.

The last poem Maha wrote was a free-verse poem, expressing how terrified she is of being blown to pieces, of dying in pieces, of not even being able to say goodbye to loved ones because they can no longer be identified. She was sitting in her family’s home as she wrote it, all her relatives together in one room, listening to the sound of bombs falling as she typed. She thought it might be her last poem. “It crossed my mind to escape, to the shelter of life, which hasn’t become a life, today I am here, tomorrow I’ll be there, and fear is between me and what I will be,” she wrote.

“Writing is the life we miss, and Gaza is what made us poets, it is what made us pen tearful poems, writing is the only free medicine in this city,” she says.

When asked what her message is to the world, she replies: “I want the world to know we are here, that we have dreams. We want a better tomorrow, not only to take our share of pain, but also to take our share of life.”

A poet performs at the Hymns of Peace spoken word event in November 2018 [Photo courtesy of Mohammed Moussa]

Omar Moussa, 23: ‘I think destiny is the one who’s writing me a poem’

The whites of his eyes take the last form,

Then they dribble and take the paper shape.

With bullets; he smashes the mouth of the warplanes –

and plucks out the tusks of killing and destruction.

With bullets;

he demolishes the borders of siege:

and the walls of the world which is slumping over

in its selfishness.

With bullets and blood; he draws a free homeland

and a long and edgeless coastline

to fail memories to slumber.

Omar Moussa

Omar Moussa is a 23-year-old poet, journalist and member of the Gaza Poets Society who lives in Jabalia Camp, the largest refugee camp in Gaza.

“Usually, literary writing, with its different forms, opens a window for us that allows us to breathe especially when it comes to speaking about what is going on inside us, like you think and I think, and when you write it down, it feels like we loosen up,” Omar says.

Omar believes there is no way to escape a place like Gaza, even by writing poetry. “If we see poetry as a gate to escape Gaza, that would seem a luxury that the people of Gaza don’t have. Reality is reality – you just cannot skip that, and writing poetry is just to swindle this reality. Here, there is death, rubble, and a tiny little life, but amidst the concretions of reality there is a flower growing, and it is the flower of poetry.”

To Omar, poetry is an attempt to translate oneself, to break down reality or to create a reality apart from the one we live in.

His favourite poets are Mahmoud Darwish, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), and Egyptian poets Amal Dunqul (1940-1983) and Ahmed Bakheet. “For no reason in particular, you find yourself interested in a specific type of poetry and not interested in others,” he says.

When I ask Omar if he hopes his poetry will reach people outside Gaza, he answers: “Maybe they read my poetry, but all I have to do is write. If I want to send a message to the outside world, I would say: ‘There are those who are living in spite of all the death around us.’”

As to whether he writes during wartime, he reflects: “I think destiny is the one who’s writing me a poem – [whether] it is a poem of death or a poem of life, all I do during this time is [try to] survive the lava of aggression.”

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Explainer: What is the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19? | Coronavirus pandemic News




Scientists worry the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

India on Wednesday said it has found about 40 cases of the Delta coronavirus variant carrying a mutation that appears to make it more transmissible, and advised states to increase testing.

Here is what we know about the variant.

What is Delta Plus?

The variant, called Delta Plus in India, was first reported (PDF) in a Public Health England bulletin on June 11.

It is a sublineage of the Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation, called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Some scientists worry that the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist, said the K417N was known to reduce the effectiveness of a cocktail of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Where all it has been found?

As of June 16 (PDF), at least 197 cases have been found in 11 countries – Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), the United States (83).

India said on Wednesday about 40 cases of the variant have been observed in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with “no significant increase in prevalence”. The earliest case in India is from a sample taken on April 5.

Britain said its first five cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from, or transited through, Nepal and Turkey.

No deaths were reported among the United Kingdom and Indian cases.

What are the worries?

Studies are continuing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation.

“WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency.

“For the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the Delta sequences … Delta and other circulating Variants of Concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission,” it said.

But India’s health ministry warned that regions where it has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination”.

There are worries Delta Plus would inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world’s worst surge in cases only recently.

“The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India – that also depends on COVID-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

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EU citizens in UK to be given 28 days to apply for settled status | Brexit News




People who miss the June 30 settlement scheme deadline will be issued warnings to apply or risk losing their rights.

European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom will be given a 28-day warning to apply for post-Brexit settled status or face losing some of their rights from next month, the government said on Tuesday.

The UK’s so-called settlement scheme for EU and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, which opened in early 2019, closes on June 30.

It allows Europeans in the UK to retain the same residence, travel, employment and healthcare rights they had before Brexit.

The rules around the UK’s departure from the bloc, which came into force at the beginning of this year, ended the reciprocal freedom of movement.

About 5.6 million people and their dependents have applied for settled status under the scheme since it was introduced.

But about 400,000 cases still require processing, while many are rushing to submit their applications before next week’s deadline.

At the same time, messaging and outreach campaigns are targeting those who may not be aware of the need to apply by next week’s deadline.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said anyone whose application was not filed by the deadline would not see their rights immediately withdrawn, as they were protected by law.

But he also ruled out extending the June 30 cutoff point.

“Put simply, extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied, and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating more uncertainties,” Foster told members of a parliamentary committee.

He added that immigration enforcement officials would instead begin issuing 28-day notices to those yet to apply.

The UK’s Home Office, which oversees immigration, said that applications may also be submitted past the 28-day notice period in some cases.

“We’ll set up the support available and we’ll signpost people to make an application, but we do recognise that there may be some people who, after that 28 days, still haven’t been able to make an application,” a Home Office spokesman said, according to The Guardian newspaper.

“I think we would want to work with them to understand why that is the case, and then support them again to make the application.”

Foster said those who had missed the deadline on reasonable grounds will still be able to apply, citing exceptions such as children whose parents had failed to apply on their behalf, or individuals with a serious illness that had prevented them from filing their paperwork.

The government will also issue a “certificate of application” for those awaiting a decision, he added, which will act as proof of their right to work, rent property, obtain benefits and use the National Health Service.

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Distribution of Mosquito Nets to Markets Traders Commences




Government has on Wednesday started distributing mosquito nets to traders; starting with the Nakasero market.

The exercise was kick-started with 2000 mosquito nets from Quality Chemicals Limited (QCL).

During his last address to the nation on Friday 18th June 2021, President Yoweri Museveni announced a 42-day lockdown directive, and all food market vendors were asked to stay at their places of work to avoid spreading the disease.

“Food market vendors should revert to the Presidential Directive of March 2020 to stay in their places of work,” he said.

President Museveni also said that the food market vendors were to be provided with mosquito nets and polythene sheets for their protection.

Handing over the donation, Mr. Emmanuel Katongole, a director at Quality Chemicals Limited applauded the market vendors for the sacrifice made when they fled their homes to sleep at workplaces to earn a living for their families and provide food to our communities.

“It is therefore important to us to ensure that they are protected from the harmful mosquitoes that linger in the night. We have donated 2000 mosquito nets to the Ministry of Health who will supply them to the market vendors,” he said

Adding, “I applaud the president and the Ministry of Health for their role in the fight against covid-19. As Quality Chemicals, we decided to contribute towards government efforts in the fight against malaria.”

Upon receipt of the donation on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary applauded quality chemicals for a helping hand.

“The women who sleep in the market are about 5000 according to the number that was given to us by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). The ministry has also brought 3000 nets to ensure that the population is covered. The nets are to protect them from mosquito bites while you’re asleep,” she said.

She asked them to follow the Standard Operating Procedures to avoid the further spread of Covid-19.

The post Distribution of Mosquito Nets to Markets Traders Commences first appeared on ChimpReports.

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